Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Making a Profit in Music: The Mick Jagger Meme and More

Friday, May 28th, 2010
Mick Jagger - The Rolling Stones live at San S...
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I saw this quote from Mick Jagger at least 5 times in different blogs in my Google Reader,

…people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

I think people are fascinated about what Jagger has to say since he is one of the most wildly successful and no doubt wealthy recording musicians of all time with career longevity most artists envy. Plus, he’s rich, right? Is he saying it was just good timing? (Nah, I’m certain some of that musical genius and epic charisma had something to do with it.) However, despite Tyler Cowen’s friendly rib that Jagger is no economist, the phenomenon Jagger is talking about is no less true and is explained further by Daniel Wolf of Renewable Music,

That date [Jagger is referring to] in the late 90′s coincides rather precisely with the mass introduction of cheap digital recording equipment and media as well as the widespread use of portable digital players.  The old model of radio advertising paying royalties for recorded music which was licensed cheaply for broadcast with the idea that randomly-heard broadcasts of songs were advertisements for the purchase of albums — which allowed the listener to select particular songs on their own — pretty much collapsed at that point in time.  The technological innovations leading to ever-cheaper and ever-more accurate recording and storage capacity were inevitable but the whole thing gets ugly when one considers that the firms selling the new recording technologies were, in many cases, also publishers of the music that was inevitably going to be recorded.

The “gets ugly” Wolf is referring to is the loss of revenue to individual artists. (Check out this scary graphic re: distribution of profits in the music world via NewsObserver TechJunkie.) This is admittedly a problem for most artists aiming to have a recording and performing career. Wolf further notes, and correctly in my opinion,

Although recordings and webcasts may have some advertising function, in the end, the grand experiment [of commodifying music] may leave us back where we started, with live performance the most important — and in many cases, only — opportunity for a musician to earn money.

While I will only mention the can of worms that is the issue of Baumol’s cost disease in live performance, I think Wolf is correct in that performance is likely to be the most lucrative way to make money. It is undeniable that the business model for artists is subject to rapid change, in particular when technology is introduced and dramatically alters the landscape artists have to work with.

However, I find it curious that despite the fact that individual artists are likely to have low(er?) chances of making it big financially in music, introduction of technology has helped achieve what has long been considered one of the most troubling aspects of becoming and artist and disseminating work: access to distribution channels. Never before in history have so many people been able to access A) ways to make and distribute their own music cheaply B) ways to hear music of all kinds cheaply. This is an undoubted improvement, as far as egalitarian ideals of access to the arts are concerned.

So, are we dealing with trade-offs (sacrifices) between access and profitability? Are there other business models that could evolve to put even more control of revenues into individual artist’s hands? Is what is “wrong” with the music industry the big labels in charge promoting watered down music, or the poor tastes (and thus, demands) of mass consumer culture?

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Art for Health Care

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Via Bad at Sports,

Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn is letting artists of all stripes pay for their medical bills by trading “credits” they earn by donating their skills & time to patients in recovery. The program called “Artist Access”  was born last year, when Dr. Edward Fishkin, Medical Director of Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, met Laura Colby a former dancer turned performing arts agent.

The Artist Access program allows artists to provide interactive art programs for patients in exchange for health care credits. The  credits are deposited in the artist’s personal account, 40 credits for each hour of work which equates to about 40$ [sic] an hour and can be used to cover sliding scale fees in Woodhull’s HHC Options program.

BaS author Hudgens asserts, “[The Artist Access Program] isn’t a soulution for the masses and looks to be a buracratic ousourcing [sic] of rehabilitation entertainment & inspiration program development but it’s a brave step in the right direction…” I cannot say I agree that this program is a mere bureaucratic solution in avoidance of regular rehab entertainment expenses, but I do think it is a creative solution to the perennial problem of obtaining adequate health care for artists who do not make enough money on their own to purchase health insurance or who do not wish to get a day job just to obtain insurance.

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Artists: Do You Feel Compelled to Work for Free or Barter?

Monday, April 12th, 2010
A newspaper illustration depicting a man engag...
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I found this conversation-starter on ArtsBizBlog to be a good one and enjoyed reading the comments that rolled in. The dilemma:

Sometimes it’s great to trade your art for a service or other product.

Then there are the times when you don’t really want what the other person is offering.

Matthew Kowalski wants to know: “What is the polite, friendly way of saying you would prefer to be paid with money?”

I particularly liked commenter “Carla’s” approach:

I have a barter policy written, and I can refer to it for these conversations. It is not posted for the public, but it reminds me of my boundaries.
The high points include:
Barter agreements are for no more than 50% of the price of the work.
I will discuss barter only if I am in profit that month.
I have a limited number of barter sales I will consider in the calendar year.
If I do not want what the other person is offering, I suggest a payment plan. In fact, that option is part of any barter discussion.

She’s one smart cookie. An unofficial or official barter and sales policy could go a long way to making those awkward “So, how much do you charge for something like this?” or “Would you be willing to reduce your price/barter/do this for free?” conversations go much more smoothly.

I barter my voice teaching services (in fact, that is how I scored this lovely web design as well as some incredible martial arts lessons from an Olympic athlete!) – so I think barter is appropriate in many situations where you really feel the value received meets or exceeds what you are offering (the definition of free and fair trade, actually).

However, I find truly valuable barter propositions are few and far between, especially when they are framed as “exposure.” Commenter “Erika” shares my annoyance at being asked to perform at events for mere exposure,

I get this all the time with the exchange being use of my art for ‘exposure’. I don’t want any more exposure – I want money! But they always seem to find an artist willing to do the freebie (I used to do that too, until I learned better).

Don’t get me wrong, exposure is great and incredibly important for artists who have no resume and are trying to build a reputation – but I’m not. I’m no superstar, but I have reached a level of involvement in teaching and performing where I’m satisfied and I do not need to do a bunch of free gigs to get my name out.

Furthermore, I already do a lot of free singing for things I think are important based on principle (part of my unofficial policy I suppose) – from volunteering my services for arts organizations trying to raise money, to celebrate and/or represent my ethnic heritage at a music festival, or for funerals and memorial services in particular – I often don’t feel right accepting money when I am  asked to sing for these types of events.

However, I feel that all too often, artists are undervaluing themselves and are afraid to put a high enough price tag on their talents, even though the competition can be fierce – with so many other artists willing to gig for free – at a certain point you need to start charging adequate prices for your services, especially if you are a proven talent.

A friend who is an accompanist quoted his rate to me once and I know he saw my eyes turn into giant saucers. He responded with, “Look, I’m not charging to put on a tux and show up for the 2 hour gig. I’m charging for the years I’ve spent practicing, the uniqueness of my repertoire, and the debt I’ve amassed educating myself – I am charging for my expertise, not just my body on the piano bench. That’s what doctors do!” All artists should have that kind of confidence to assess their skills and charge adequate prices for their services.

But pricing can be a confounding thing and there is no one-size-fits-all-artists solution, so if you are interested in more advice about pricing, I highly recommend some pages out of my favorite micro-business and entrepreneurism blogger’s playbook, Naomi Dunsford of IttyBiz, who writes about pricing strategies:

How Do I Figure Out Pricing?

Goldilocks on Pricing, or Why You Might Not Want to Charge $5 for your Ebook

Remember, as an artist, you are also an entrepreneur as you are often a one man or one woman show trying to prove yourself and your art/talent as a product in a mass market. You need to not only learn business skills but have the guts to implement them by assessing, then asserting your worth to potential buyers in the marketplace.

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More Fun with Arts Labor Markets

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
A panoramic scene of Covent Garden, London and...
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In a move sure to make many in the arts cheer, Prime Minister Brown launches a new program to help arts “graduates break into showbusiness“. According to BBC News, “The Creative Bursaries Scheme is designed to help graduates secure what would otherwise be unpaid internships.”

So, what is it that will keep these talented artists in fiscally viable positions once their paid internships run out? Does the availability of government-sponsored internships have any historical correlation to the availability of long-term life-sustaining work in an artist’s chosen field? As I’m sure we all know, talent is no guarantee of a payoff in life or in the arts. I’m sure any of us can point to dozens of supremely talented colleagues that have not yet gotten the lucky break they deserve so much. At the same time we could point to supremely financially well-off artists whose level of talent leaves much to be desired. (A coloratura who pointed to the ceiling each time she hit a high-E in a Michigan Opera Theatre production of Die Zauberflote comes to mind.)

Could these paid internships be sending the signal that a life in the arts is not only super fun, but more affordable than it really is?

I would say so. As I argued in my recent post, subsidizing an otherwise already desirable activity means you will get more people wanting to do that activity, not less. Even subsidizing less desirable activities (like low income home-buying) means you’ll get more of it (and more of the supposedly unforeseen and unintended consequences). This is public policy 101.

Furthermore, compensating differentials ensures the arts market will always be flooded with shiny, happy, eager labor – subsidy or not. Just ask any dozen or thousand fledgling sopranos looking for work if they would like to sing at Covent Garden for free. Don’t you think they would all beg, borrow, and steal to make sure they were on that stage? Do you think they would consider themselves as being exploited? Perhaps after a certain amount of time, but the evil, evil market would ensure that at some point, no soprano would be willing to sing for free forever. That is, unless she was Florence Foster Jenkins.

To quote Professor and Economist Bryan Caplan, from his econ syllabus,

A. Do people always choose the highest-paying occupation open to them?  No.  “Man does not live by bread alone.”

B. Conversely, does everyone refuse to do the truly miserable jobs (like garbage man)?  No.

C. Easy to analyze this using S&D: the funner the job, the more labor supply increases; the more horrible the job, the more labor supply decreases.

(And yes, this is the theoretical textbook effect, and yes, this is keeping all things constant.) So when subsidy is thrown into the mix, i.e. Fun Job with Higher Wage Than What the Market Demands – everyone gets really excited about it and compensating differentials ensures a steadily increasing stream of labor to the newly subsidized arts market.

As far as I can see it, there are roughly two sides of the argument. One says, “Good for the artists that get the jobs and the government probably should subsidize more. No worries about the other effects, as long as some people are better off.” The other, “A life in the arts is hard. That’s about it. No amount of subsidy will permanently change the labor market. The more you subsidize, the more enticing it becomes, and the steady stream of unemployed artist hopefuls will just keep rising.”

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In a Nutshell

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Sometimes I just don’t get the time to blog about all the things I would like to. So I’m going to start doing what all the cool kids in the blogosphere do, just post the links and let you guys do the hard work.

…2005 was a peak of its own in the three-year trend coming out of the steep post-internet boom recession of 2002. If the art market can consolidate above the 2005 level at is trough, the hypothesis that the art market has entered a new, global phase that offers much greater expansion in terms of both volume and price has some value.

  • High profile fair use fight over art. Images of the Korean war memorial depicted on a US stamp vs. the actual sculptures of the Korean war memorial.
  • Even higher profile arts smackdown: China out-arts France. What could it be? Could it be…mmmm, Satan? Or just the associated evils of capitalism?
  • And an interesting twist on the price elasticity of demand argument for luxury goods – turns out that art as mere luxury good may not be as accurate as art as alternative investment or store of long-term value.

“While outright global demand was weaker for luxury collectibles and consumables, there has also been a shift in luxury purchasing habits, as many HNWIs looked to secure their wealth in assets with long-term tangible value,” says the report. “This has worked strongly in favour of the art market, with art now recognized as a viable alternative investment asset.

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Deaccessioning Fury

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Deaccessioning is a topic that is incredibly dicey to discuss. A museum’s art collection is its lifeline, and many would argue, and many feel that siphoning off a bit here or there to make ends meet is tantamount to a slow and certain death. However convincing and gut-wrenching this logic may be – it is not 100 per cent true. Because as we all know, (and as I odiously remind readers) money makes the world – and museums – go ’round.

Art critic and cultural writer Judith H. Dobrzynski discussed, and supported deaccessioning in a recent New York Times op-ed, The Art of the Deal,

Many people don’t understand the problem. If the choice is between allowing a museum to fail (or make crippling cutbacks) and selling some art, what’s the big deal? Sell art! Most museums, after all, hold many works they have no room to display and stuff them into back rooms and off-site storage facilities. If museums are allowed to cull their collections to raise money to buy more art, why can’t they sell those very same pieces to solve their financial problems?

I agree with Ms. Dobrzynski – the choice seems to be very simple to me. If interested in the ensuing debate, she has posted a rebuttal to many common objections here. The main concerns seem to be with the idea that once deaccessioning begins – what is to stop it from happening ad nauseum? I have a difficult time believing pandemonium would ensue simply because deaccessioning was allowed – but then again – I’m wholly uninformed of the history, administration, and legal issues of running museums.

However, I tend to agree with Ms. Dobrzynski’s idea that the strictest form of the deaccessioning rule could be lessened. Perhaps it could be based on some overall financial metric such as – “If the museum hasn’t paid it’s bills for a period of 60 days, deaccessioning is allowed with board majority approval.” Or something. I’m not a lawyer nor have I any experience with museum administration – so I cannot say how realistic or lawful such a clause is, but I cannot imagine it would be impossible.

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